Trine (PC) review
"Intelligent but unpretentious, quaint yet brutal, Trine is regularly an absolute delight. Delve into the options menu and you can set it up for co-operative play - which allows all three players in the world at once - adding another level to the already wonderful puzzle-solving. But even alone, Trine offers five hours of invigorating, exciting, hybridised and enormously beautiful gaming. For a relatively low-key offering, it's brimming with confidence in its image and approach. That's what makes Trine so darling, even when that skeleton gets stuck on a rock while a hundred bats eat you to death."
It's all about the aesthetic. That's what I love most about Trine, a side-scrolling, action-adventure, platforming-RPG from Finnish developer FrozenByte. Everything about it is tremendously beautiful. But above that, it's distinctly a vision. A masterful hybrid of steampunk technology and traditional high fantasy, there's simply nothing around that looks or sounds anything like it.
For a game with such a focus on physics puzzles, it's apt. It's all about architecture and locomotion. The green grass, towering castles and dark dungeons are the world. The cogs that chug away at every turn are what keeps it alive.
You're in this world searching for an artefact that will free you from the grips of a terrible curse. Cosmetically, it's straight forward. You jump and thwack your way from left to right, and overcome a series of environmental obstacles along the way. But Trine is also an exceptionally clever game. The curse has bound your trio of protagonists together into one physical form. But by pressing 1, 2 or 3, you can switch between each character and their respective abilities. The knight is a big hulk of muscle and metal with outstanding sword skills - but he can't swim or climb high structures. The thief has a bow and arrow, as well as a grappling hook for swinging across chasms. And the wizard, despite possessing no ability in combat, has the power to summon and manipulate objects.
Almost every puzzle can be completed in a multitude of different ways, and although your progression through the world is largely predefined, many sections have several available routes. Many more require careful consideration of which character's abilities to use when, and demand precise and thoughtful teamwork within the Trine.
Braid springs to mind during some of the more elaborate puzzles, and it's here where Trine is at its best. It's a game that, at its toughest, can often seem completely insurmountable. But there's always a way forward, and when you establish a method for progress you always feel fiendishly clever. A series of spinning wheels, with a death trap beneath, becomes no trouble when the wizard can jam them with boxes, rendering them unable to move. And climbing an enormous tower, blocked off at the top, is simple once you work out there are ledges to hook on to as the thief, before switching to the knight and smashing through the obstruction above.
Each character's abilities increase as the game progresses, too. To begin with, the wizard can move objects already in the world, and summon boxes. By the end, with enough experience points assigned, he can devise a collection of wonderful contraptions, and maintain their presence in the world for longer. There are also numerous items to collect, many of which become key in beating a particular section. One level around the half-way point is almost pitch black, but the thief has just stumbled upon a stack of fire arrows. It's like Thief in reverse.
Close-range combat is delightfully aggressive, with an astonishing feedback loop considering the game's side-scrolling nature. But the strength of the puzzle-solving means the action is often the least desirable of Trine's components. The vast majority of your foes are re-animated skeletons, albeit in different varieties, which leaves a little to be desired. And their onslaughts are often so incessant, with regular, extended respawning sessions, that it begins to grate - especially when you're trying to take a few seconds out to think your way around the next puzzle.
A couple of hours in, the skeletons are joined by bats, which just prove annoying. Darting around the screen, they're virtually impossible to hit, and though they often retreat after a while, coming across any almost always means taking unnecessary damage. The combat is also where a couple of annoying glitches kick in. While enemies are gloriously animated, they occasionally forget what they're supposed to be doing, or get stuck in the ground. And a couple of boss fights can be overcome by simply firing a bunch of arrows into the next room, since the AI doesn't kick in until you're within triggering distance.
Even without this problem, the boss fights are a little underwhelming. There's no tactical play here. Generally, each big foe powers up its attack over a couple of seconds, during which you can take a step back then fire an arrow into its head while the animation resets. Really, Trine would be a stronger product without any of these encounters at all. The combat issues serve only to remove some of the shine from an otherwise outstanding game.
Intelligent but unpretentious, quaint yet brutal, Trine is regularly an absolute delight. Delve into the options menu and you can set it up for co-operative play - which allows all three players in the world at once - adding another level to the already wonderful puzzle-solving. But even alone, Trine offers five hours of invigorating, exciting, hybridised and enormously beautiful gaming. For a relatively low-key offering, it's brimming with confidence in its image and approach. That's what makes Trine so darling, even when that skeleton gets stuck on a rock while a hundred bats eat you to death.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (July 07, 2009)
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